‘Guardian’ Correspondent Levels Plagiarism Charge at Reuters

Two Moscow journalists report very similar stories

“Wow. Thanks to @Reuters for at least changing a few of the words from my story,” Miriam Elder, The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, tweeted Thursday, suggesting that Reuters had either plagiarized or borrowed heavily from her work without crediting her.

Elder’s story, published Sept. 30, was about Polina Zherebtsova, an author who published her diary of the second Chechnya war.

“Polina Zherebtsova was 14 when the bombs started raining down,” Elder’s story began. “…From the start, Zherebtsova wrote about it, an act of catharsis as much as a document on the second Chechnya war.”

On Thursday, a month after Elder’s piece, Reuters’ Moscow correspondent Alissa de Carbonnel published her take on the story: “Polina Zherebtsova was 14 when the bombing began . . .” Carbonnel began. “Through it all, she wrote about it . . . The flow of words were an act of catharsis.”

That was but the first of many examples of identical language and similar structure throughout the piece. But no official charges of plagiarism have been made thus far, and the reason for the similarities isn't fully clear yet. Both Elder and Carbonnel conducted their own interviews with Zherebtsova.

But at one point in the Guardian piece, Elder described Zherebtsova by writing, “her dyed blonde fringe peeking out from under a headscarf and long gold earrings adorned with dolphins framing her lightly freckled face.”

Carbonnel used similar language to describe Zherebtsova in her article for Reuters: “her bleach-blond fringes peeping out from a pink and turquoise head scarf framing her round cheeks.”

Prior to becoming a journalist, Carbonnel was a competitive ice dancer in Russia. She has been writing for Reuters for a year, where she has primarily covered the Russian space program, among other things.

In a subsequent tweet, Elder wrote that she and Carbonnel are “friendly. Which makes the whole thing all the more bizarre . . . ”

A spokesperson from Thomson Reuters told Adweek, "Thomson Reuters has not been contacted by The Guardian, but we are looking into the matter."

FRIDAY UPDATE: On Friday, a day after its publication, Reuters withdrew Carbonnel's story from its website. In an internal email, obtained by Adweek, Reuters editor Ralph Boulton explained the decision:

"Please be advised that the Oct. 27 Moscow story headlined 'Chechen teen diary a bitter tale of bombs and survival' has been withdrawn because, though it included original reporting, it is too similar to a piece already published by The Guardian on the same subject to be appropriate for publication. No substitute story will be issued."

MONDAY UPDATE: Adweek has confirmed that as of Oct. 31, Carbonnel is continuing to work for Reuters in the Moscow bureau. “We are continuing to review the matter,” Alix M. Freedman, Reuters’ ethics and standards editor, said. “Reuters adheres to the highest possible standards, and we will make sure we are acting ethically in every respect.”